So I sent out about 70 query letters to literary agents for my middle-grade novel, The Joyville Sweat Sox. The response has been less than stellar. It’s not that the agents don’t like the novel, it’s just that they’re not reading it. So far, only one literary agent requested to read the novel.
I heard back from her just the other day.
The query response rate is never great, but it’s usually better than this. Typically, I will send out 70-80 query letters and about 4-5 of the agencies will request a full or partial of the manuscript. Sure, those four or five will almost surely reject the manuscript in the end, but at least you get a few weeks to dream.
Not this time. This time, only one literary agency requested to read the novel. This was the same agency who said they loved my last novel, said it had a strong chance of publication, and that they were seriously considering taking it on. Then, after two months of radio silence, ultimately declined because they were “too busy”. Given my history with this agency, I didn’t know if was a good thing that they requested this latest book or not. Would they be impressed if they now read two novels of mine that they enjoyed? Would they brush me off again? Would they not like this book?
Oddly, I hadn’t really been giving much thought to this latest submission. Normally, I sit around on pins and needles, waiting to hear back from the agency who will determine my fate. Will this be it? My big break? This time, I found myself forgetting that I even had submitted the book for consideration. I had already kind of made up my mind then when the response came in – I’d be upset about it for few hours, and then let it go. There was kind of a lot riding on this submission. I really like this novel, I’m proud of it, and this one was the only agency biting. It was either them or nothing.
When the email response finally came in, the one from the agency with my novel’s title in the subject heading, I was overwhelmed with a sudden realization.
I don’t care.
Even before I read the email, I realized I simply did not care what they thought. That may not seem like a big deal, but I’ve spent my entire “career” as a writer living and dying by what agents, producers, editors, and publishers thought of my work. It was totally up to them as to whether my particular story would live another day or die a slow, languishing death. And it was always death. Always. Over and over, I’ve been told I’m a good writer, told I have talent, and yet they always pass.
Things are different now. For the last year, I’ve been laboring to get my favorite novel. QUEEN HENRY, ready for self-publication. No, it’s not going to be on the shelves of Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, or on any library shelf. But it will be out there. If I get five readers, that will be five more than usually read my work. This time, there’s no maybe about it. As long as I’m still alive in 12 weeks, this is going to happen.
The same day I got the email from the agency, I’d spent the day making some final changes to QUEEN HENRY based on my latest editor’s feedback. I guess I was feeling especially productive and very attached to the material I was working on because I knew it was actually going somewhere come July. Suddenly, it just didn’t matter what the traditional publishing world thought of me because it was totally irrelevant.
The truth is that nobody knows what’s going to sell. Both traditional and self-publishers just make the best guess we can about what’s going to please the reader, but nobody knows for sure. The great thing is that, these days, a self-published author has just as much of a shot of being successful as a traditional published one. Sure, we may not sell as many copies as an author who’s backed by an agent and publisher, but we’re not forking over 80% of our profits, either. We don’t have to sell as many books to be successful. Since nobody knows what will sell, it makes sense for self-publishers to write the best book we can, release it to world, and then get to work on the next one. In the first one doesn’t sell, that sucks, but oh, well. There’s more where that came from. With traditional publishers, the door is slammed shut on 99% of writers before they even get a chance. Who knows how many bestsellers there could be in that large group of writers? It’s not really the publishers’ fault. It’s just business. It’s just not a particularly great business model anymore, which is why it’s failing…
It’s a good thing i didn’t care about what the literary agent thought of my work…
The truth is, they were actually quite complimentary. They said it was really good, funny, well-written, and so forth. They said, however, that it was in need of a “paid professional edit” to make it more accessible to middle-graders and they were more than happy to provide their special editorial services. A quick look at their website for such services revealed their prices were about $1000. At best, this is a conflict of interest. At worst, it’s a scam.
Which means that the best response that I ever got from a literary agent, the time where they “almost” represented my first novel, was a total lie.
I should be devastated.
It’s a combination of world-weariness (15 years as a screenwriter, 5 years as a novelist) and optimism as a self-publisher, but I just don’t care. This is not the first time I’ve been jerked around by a so-called professional in the biz, but it just might be the last. My plan was to query agents with my future novels, and then just self-publish when they all got rejected. Now, I’m thinking maybe I won’t bother. I just don’t really give a damn what the “professionals” think any more. It’s not that Joyville doesn’t need work – I’m sure it does. Being told by an agent that a book needs work is standard procedure. In fact, I would be suspicious of an agent that agreed to take on a work “as is” without suggesting any revision. However, I’ve never heard of an agent saying you must pay for a professional edit. I’ve been writing for a long time and have been read by many agents and producers – no one has ever said my work was not professionally written. This agency just told me that the book needed work in order to be more age-appropriate for middle-graders. This is probably a valid viewpoint and one that I will take under serious consideration in the future if I decide to go forward with publishing the book myself. However, any agency that tells you that you must pay for an edit – and that they would be more than happy to take your money – is not to be trusted.
I found it so liberating that my gut reaction to receiving the email – even before reading it – was indifference. It’s not that I don’t care what anyone thinks. I’m in the process of having a couple of beta readers tear my second novel apart and for my own good. I care what they think because I care what my readers will ultimately think. It’s their ultimate opinions that matter the most. It’s just that the opinions of a few, highly selective traditional publishing folks stopped mattering to me somewhere along the way.
I keep hearing Morgan Freeman’s voice in my head. “So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because, to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.”
It’s time to let the readers decide.
– Linda Fausnet
QUEEN HENRY is now available at the following retailers:
* All proceeds net of taxes will go to the Harvey Milk Foundation **